Editorial: Reasons to be cheerful, part six

Helping others for no reward is a great part of the quality of life for many in Britain

Share
Related Topics

Now for the good news. Our Happy List, which we publish today, celebrates the qualities in people that the news tends to overlook. There is a media bias in favour of the extremes of human behaviour, and a bias within that bias towards reporting the unhappy, the unkind and the selfish. Our Happy List started six years ago as an antidote to a list published by a rival newspaper that seemed to glorify the accumulation of money. We were not opposed to success; merely seeking to widen its definition, in which, we think, we caught a mood.

David Cameron acknowledged as much with his advocacy of the "Big Society". He meant well, and we supported what he was trying to do. His slogan was a mistake, however, not because no one knew what it meant but because it seemed to be trying to make voluntary action a party political question. To have a chapter of the Conservative manifesto for the 2010 election entitled "Build the Big Society" looked as if Mr Cameron were trying to claim philanthropy as a Tory virtue. Worse, once in government, the Prime Minister was widely seen as using the Big Society as a cover for cuts in public spending. When that phase of indignation had subsided, all that seemed to be left of the idea was that it was a symbol of Mr Cameron's blurry sense of purpose.

Yet he was on to something. Although the free market is the most efficient way to allocate resources, and competition is the best spur to the innovation that makes our prosperity possible, it is not the source of deeper fulfilment. Helping others for no reward other than the satisfaction of doing so is a great part of the quality of life for most people in Britain. As we report today, figures published by the Cabinet Office suggest that 72 per cent of people have volunteered over the previous year, defined as "giving unpaid help to people who are not relatives".

The same survey finds that social cohesion on other indicators has increased in the past 10 years: 78 per cent of people say that they feel they belong to their neighbourhood, up from 70 per cent; and 87 per cent say that "people from different backgrounds get on well together" in their local area, up from 80 per cent in 2003.

That makes the point about the non-partisan nature of altruism. Those increases have been enabled by the enlightened policies of the Labour government; and it is encouraging that the coalition is continuing them.

The Independent on Sunday is encouraged, too, that Mr Cameron intends to use the G8 summit which he is hosting in Enniskillen in June to promote the idea of "social impact bonds", a way of attracting funds for charities and social enterprises if they can deliver better results than traditional public services.

Mr Cameron's biggest mistake with the Big Society was perhaps to give it a name at all. Like patriotism or discretion, advertising altruism can be tasteless and self-defeating.

Decency by stealth has long been the British way, and long may it continue. But, every once in a while, let us blow our collective trumpet. Ours is a wonderful nation, in which the vast majority of people are generous and kind. Our Happy List aims to celebrate the exceptional contribution made by just 100 people, but they are exceptional only in degree, not in nature: they are representative of millions. We are entitled to take more pride in ourselves.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn